November 5, 1605, a man named Guy Fawkes, one of those who had conspired against the life of King James I, was arrested in the basement of the Parliament of England. He was guarding explosives which the conspirators had prepared to blow up the building in an attempt to assassinate the king. Fawkes was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason. As King James I had survived the attempted assassination, the Parliament of England passed an act calling for an annual, public thanksgiving for the failure of the plot.
In November, JoongAng Ilbo reported that there had been a protestor wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, among citizens calling for President Geun-hye Park’s resignation at Gwanghwamun Plaza. Looking at the news photograph which shows the demonstrator, one may notice that the mask is not unfamiliar. Actually, after the release and worldwide success of V for Vendetta (2006), Guy Fawkes masks have been often used as a symbol of resistance and rebellion, usually against political oppression, by many protestors.
V for Vendetta, based on the 1988 graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, is a 2006 film directed by James McTeigue, who has formerly been an assistant director of films such as Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003) and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002). McTeigue made his directorial debut with V for Vendetta, which was a commercial and critical success. The film stars Hugo Weaving as the mysterious man in a Guy Fawkes mask, as well as Natalie Portman acting as Evey Hammond, the heroine.
As the idea that V for Vendetta tries to deliver is about power and responsibility of citizenry living under a tyrannical regime which does not serve their collective will, a Guy Fawkes mask seen among protestors surely gives South Koreans an idea of what they can and should do as a citizens in their current society.
The story takes place in the United Kingdom where a dictatorial government reigns, while the world is in endless turmoil and warfare. It begins with the bizarre encounter between V, a mysterious man wielding swords and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, and Evey Hammond, an employee of a state-run broadcast named British Television Network, on the night of November 4. Secret police catch Evey for passing curfew and try to force themselves upon her. Appearing from the dark back alley, V knocks the police down and brings Evey to a rooftop. There, Evey witnesses V blowing up the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, commonly known as the Old Bailey.
On the following day, 5th of November, while a broadcaster is saying that the government had to urgently demolish the Old Bailey concerning for safety, V infiltrates the British Television Network and takes over the facility. He zaps the channel to play footage he prepared, in which he claims responsibility of citizenry and encourages them to rise up and meet him outside the House of Parliament on the same day in the following year. On the command of Chancellor Adam Sutler, Inspector Finch tries to leave no stone unturned to discover and catch V. As the proclaimed fifth of November approaches, however, V simply continues to assassinate major figures of the society and Sutler gets even more indignant. As the day nears, citizens of the UK receive countless parcels of Guy Fawkes masks.
Vendetta is an Italian word meaning vengeance, often done by a kin in requital of a misdeed inflicted to family. The word in the title not only hints its storyline, but also suggests what characteristic V has. Throughout the movie, V is an avatar of vengeance that chases every single person who abused him and repays what he had received in the past. His vengeance does not recognize any regrets a target person may have because, as V says, it comes not for what he or she intended, but did.
However, it does not mean that V is merely an infuriated killer who lacks any sense of justice. Actually, V appears as a rather cool-headed man and never shows any burst of strong emotion when he kills someone. When he came for Coroner Delia, asked if it is meaningless to apologize, he answers “never.”
While the act of killing those who abused him is correlated with V’s personal vengeance, the act of overthrowing the dictatorial and abusive government was influenced more by Valerie, a woman who was killed as an unwilling subject of human experimentation at a concentration camp.
I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish. Every inch… except one. We must never let them take it from us.
Before dying from a virus experiment performed on her, Valerie managed to write her short biography and a message on toilet paper, encouraging anyone who read it never to abandon their hope and strength, saying “Love you” even though they may never meet. The memo is delivered through a mousehole to V, who was also a subject in the next room. As Delia, who was then a researcher of the experiment, wrote in her diary, V then was unable to remember who he was before the camp. In the agony of the experiments and confusion of not knowing himself, he acquired his identity from Valerie’s memo. Now Valerie is the one most closely connected to V and when she is killed, V seeks for vendetta.
Even though V tries to overthrow the government and urges citizens to do so, he does not intend to be the new leader of the next era. “The world that I’m a part of and that I helped shape, will end tonight. And tomorrow, a different world will begin… that different people will shape,” V says to Evey, leaving her to decide whether to use a subway train loaded full of explosives that he prepared to blow up the House of Parliament. What V means is his limitation that he alone cannot disassemble the existing system and rebuild it, but he expects Evey and citizens of the UK to do that.
Actually, Evey and citizens of the UK show different patterns of behavior from that of V, as shown in the cross cutting in which Evey expresses happiness, joy and gratitude in the rain while V only shows anger. Also, when citizens of the UK confront armed personnel guarding the House of Parliament, they just flow past them like water instead of fighting them.
After all the mayhem, V makes his exit without taking off his mask. Instead, it is citizens of the UK who wear masks and rally outside the House of Parliament, and then take theirs off. The scene in which citizens unmask implies that it is not super-heroic V but a mundane citizen who does and should fight against what he or she believes to be wrong; as Evey said when asked who V was. “He was Edmond Dantes. And he was my father… and my mother. My brother. My friend. He was you… and me. He was all of us.”